First, I have to amend an earlier entry. While reviewing Invisible Popeye, with a better premise than execution, I wrote “it’s better than Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus doing their usual routine in a Suburban Boring house that also has computer buttons. Which, you’ll trust me, they could do”. Perhaps they could. But I was thinking specifically of this cartoon, in which they do not. There’s no Brutus here. There’s just the disembodied voice of Jackson Beck. We do have Swee’Pea, though. And we have Suburban Boring, but in The Future. Invisible Popeye at least gets weird.
It’s another O G Wotasnozzle cartoon. And another where he uses his time machine to send Popeye to a novel setting. Eventually. This cartoon runs five minutes, 41 seconds not counting the closing credits, which King Features has chopped off here. One minute 43 seconds of that is credits and the generic footage of Wotasnozzle deciding to send Popeye somewhere in time. “What the heck,” the great inventor thinks, “he’s probably just sitting at home listening to his theme on the Dixieland station”. So that’s why Popeye’s sent to either the year 2500 or 2500 years into the future. The framing device almost explains why everybody’s in the future, and lets the cartoon be one-fifth stock footage.
Also Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea are in the future too? Or Popeye hangs with their Future counterparts? Wotasnozzle says he sends Popeye somewhere by pot luck, so how are Olive Oyl and Swee’pea there? Popeye doesn’t seem thrown by the strange world of The Future. There’s a bit where water flows to the ceiling and he complains about something going wrong with the gravity. But that makes equal sense for either 20th or 25th Century Popeye to observe.
This is a standard circa-1960s view of The Future. Flying cars. Flying lounge chairs. Tourist space rockets to the Moon. Skyscrapers built into helter-skelter slides. Swee’Pea is splitting atoms and getting neutrons all over the rug. The ambiguously defined family of Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee’Pea eat roast beef pills and soup-and-salad-crystals and all. It seems like they have to eat a lot of pills. Maybe they’re eating their trail mix?
And, yeah, you don’t watch cartoons like this for The Future. You watch them for The Present, spoofed by its placement in future trappings. And obviously a cartoon that has four minutes for all its business can’t compare to The Jetsons, still in the future when this was made. So we can look at what parts of The Present of 1960 the cartoon thought worth spoofing?
Well, the home. I read the place as suburban, but just because it seems boring. I guess it’s meant to be the City of Tomorrow. And then the road trip. Particularly the trip done by either bus or train. (I guess a five-minute rest stop is more a bus than a train thing, especially by 1960. I know train stops at eateries used to be a thing. I’ve been in the room while parts of The Harvey Girls were on TV.) It’s a fair premise, but there’s nothing done with it. Swee’Pea gathers asteroids. Why not go to a roadside attraction? You have a perfectly good chance to show, I don’t know, the largest robot cog this side of the asteroid belt and don’t use it?
Then we get the Moon as a quaint, rustic tourist destination. The Upper Peninsula to Earth’s Michigan. There’s a similar notion in Futurama, where the Moon is part backwater, part tacky tourist trap. Arthur C Clarke’s novel Rendezvous with Rama has a line about how in the politics of the solar system, the Moon was a suburb of Earth and always would be. (I don’t remember it being clear what that meant exactly.) I am sure neither is responding to this cartoon. The idea is too sparsely entered.
We get a joke about the rustic moon offering old-fashioned stuff like the cars, gas stations, and airplanes of 1960. “Our present is, to the future, the past” isn’t a deep observation, but it is the sort of observation a kid in the target audience would appreciate.
So as seems to happen a lot, I like the characters, and I like the premise. I just don’t like that nothing happens, and that the premise isn’t used well. If I could wish any Popeye-related product into existence, though, a Popeye Of The Future comic might be it.
I don’t know how many animation teams Jack Kinney had working for these many 60s Popeye cartoons. It’s clearly enough that I should be paying attention to directors, though. The cartoon for this week has Hugh Fraser listed as the animation director, and story by Raymond Jacobs. Both the animation and the story feel quite different to other Jack Kinney cartoons. This is how we work out secrets of how the cartoons were made, sixty years later. From 1960, it’s Popeye in Haweye.
This starts with a nice stylish title card. A lot of these do. The style carries into the short, though, with this enormous plane and double-deck windows. And then, uh, uh, some Hawai’ian women tossing leis onto tourist Olive Oyl. So that’s how far into the cartoon I was before feeling really uncomfortable. This lasted a second and then we were on to the next beat, introducing Popeye and Brutus as rival tour guides. There’s also a mob of other tour guides, and there’s a rare bit of overlapping dialogue. Before Olive Oyl can even see what’s going on the tour guides are all beating each other up.
It’s abrupt, and the cartoon trusts the viewer to work out why the fight even started. I didn’t expect that. I expect cheap made-for-tv cartoons of the era to be ruthlessly expository. It’s cheap, for the air time filled, for the characters to explain the setup to each other. And it avoids the audience, young kids watching on lousy sets, from being confused. It’s packed.
Popeye and Brutus are the surviving tour guides, and Olive Oyl agrees to go on both tours but pay for the better. (This cartoon would be totally different if there were a second tourist on the plane.) Brutus wins the coin toss, and it’s underplayed that he uses a two-headed coin. Olive Oyl’s first tour is a breakneck run through all the parts of Hawai’i that don’t have people in them. Then a race onto the plane to dive, among other things, through a volcano. Then to a tandem bike ride past orchids. And before you know it the tour’s over, with Brutus arguing that the tour is great because there is so much of it. I concede the logic.
Popeye’s tour is slow and gentle. It’s impossible to argue that he isn’t the better guide, if nothing else for matching the tour to what his customer wants. It makes me wonder what Brutus’s tours are like when he isn’t infatuated with the customer. There’s a fight, motivated apparently because the cartoon has to end with a fight. But Popeye’s spinach comes form eating Olive Oyl’s lei, an act so weird that she comments on it. Somehow the arbitrariness of that cuts the arbitrariness of this fight at this moment in a way that makes both better. One punch and Brutus goes buoncing off into a luau, for a moment of serious cringe. And Popeye and Olive Oyl have a moonlight date.
The story’s simple. But it moves economically. Maybe even too fast, but that serves the plot well. I’m surprised by how well the whole thing fits together. The animation is also … well, I don’t blame you if you think it’s sloppy. To me, it looks loose and active, like the characters are bouncing. It’s a good energy.
OK, but is this the sheep district of the country or what because this is getting to be far too many sheep.
Dan tried to get away without calling it “Diet Pupsi” and couldn’t. But he did realize that over this trip everyone had tried, one time or other, just saying the name of it right. The implication is that everybody’s ready to let this in-joke go, but nobody wants to be the one to say it. Dan resolves to bring this up at a good moment, but hopes so very much that someone else brings it up first.
Sophie starts the practice of deliberately misreading the highway signs now. Taking “Williamsport” as the game of Williams promises some great fun, but all it really leads to is stories of times their satellite navigator had no idea how to pronounce a street name. “Malcolm the Tenth Street” is judged the best of those. There’s just not enough good towns in the area, though.
It seemed like this should be a good way to pass a few miles. But sharing the most important thing in their lives that they’ve given up correcting their parents about? Like, where it’s just too much effort to explain what’s really going on, and it’s easier to let them go about being wrong and correct people whom their parents in turn mislead? Yeah, so it turns out that for everybody it’s just “exactly what it is we do for work”. That’s weird itself. Like, you’d think for someone it would be a relationship or some important aspect of their personality or something. No, though. It’s just what everyone does in exchange for money. This seems like it says something important about modern society, but who knows?
All right, but that is definitely a two-story strip mall, putting to rest an earlier squabble.
Josh is irrationally offended by the name of the Creekside Inn Hotel, citing “redundancy”. His status is not helped when it turns out to be near the Riverfront Cemetery Memorial Park.
The historical marker turned out to be a surprisingly good stop. It’s just a note that this town was somehow too small for Lincoln’s Funeral Train to stop at, but they have this amazing picture of the train just going through town. It’s not a very good picture but for an action scene in 1865? That’s pretty amazing anyway. But the real question is how everything in town is covered in black crepe. Where did that all come from? The town isn’t anything today, and back then? It was so nothing it couldn’t even get the funeral train to stop. Why would they even have enough crepe to shroud all downtown? Or if they didn’t, where did they get it? Did they have enormous quantities of regular crepe and just dye it black all of a sudden? Amanda’s joke that maybe it was crepe of all colors and it just looks black is judged to be “too soon”. But that doesn’t answer the real question.
It’s become so tiring to read all the highway signs that the town or towns of Portage Munster are passed without comment.
Now it’s time for the search for a place to have dinner. This is a complex triangulation of where they are, how fast they’re going somewhere, and what towns of any size are going to be anywhere near dinnertime. The objective: find someplace genuinely local to go. And after fifteen minutes of searching, success! It’s a well-reviewed barcade and they even have a menu online with four vegetarian-friendly options, plus great heaping piles of fried things. And it’s been open since like 1938. It is closed today, and tomorrow, for the only two days it’s set to be closed between Easter and Thanksgiving this year.
By now the group has gotten past making up redundantly-named landmarks and is annoying Josh with oxymoronic names.
At least everyone can agree: after all this time driving, we’re all walking like badly-rigged video game models. This is what’s so good about taking a road trip. You get to enjoy everything in new and different ways.
For example: Comics Kingdom has opened up a comics merchandise store. And yes, they have a Mary Worth collection. It leans to the ironic reader’s tastes, which is probably what a Mary Worth merch table has to do. This is why it has stuff about Mary Worth’s muffins. Also stuff about Aldo Kelrast, a plot from like fifteen years ago about a man who decided to stalk her. The storyline, and its resolution, is a cornerstone of the modern Mary Worth snark-reading community. At least those who don’t mind making quite so much light of one of the scariest things a person can suffer through.
Anyway, the store has stuff for other comics, including my best fist forever Popeye. It’s also got comics-adjacent characters like Betty Boop and Cuphead. (Yes, I know there was a Betty Boop comic strip in the 30s. Comics Kingdom Vintage even runs it today. It’s quite bad and correctly forgotten.) The biggest mystery: they’re not slapping a Krazy Kat logo on some bricks and shipping those out? C’mon, this is right there. Use the Priority Mail flat-rate boxes, guys. Anyway, on to Mary Worth’s doings.
Dawn, leaving a store in Santa Royale’s prestigious Three Doors Mall, bumps into Hugo Lambert. They took Classic Literature from Professor Cameron last year. He’s their French Foreign Exchange Student. He’s extremely French. He has to use the mother tongue for sentences like“My name is Hugo” or “I speak English”. You know, things no one who’s learned a foreign language ever has trouble remembering.
Or he wants us to remember he’s French. Hugo will sometimes go as much as a whole word balloon without lapsing into his native tongue. Or mentioning the glories of France. This is no complaint from me. Story comics are better when at least one character is preposterous. Not that pride in one’s homeland is by itself preposterous. Being barely able to talk about anything else? That makes delight into the baseline for all his appearances. The story has not reached the glories of CRUISE SHIPS, and its heap of characters reacting all out of proportion to the situation. But it’s been fun reading. The worst story comics are when all the characters are a vague mass of undifferentiated beige. Give a character an obsession, and ratchet that obsession up, and you’ve got life.
They have lunch. Hugo negs on the typical American diet of fried high-fructose corn syrup smothered in bacon, which, fair enough. Not Dawn’s eating, though. She eats almost as good as they do in France. Hugo loved the part in Literature class where they talked about Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He agrees with Dawn that the fire at Notre Dame was terrible. He negs Americans’ cultural appreciation, which is typically livetweeting their rewatches of Knight Rider. Again, fair enough. But Dawn points out America has good stuff too, like how we let French people in and … value … Americanism and stuff. Hugo likes Dawn, despite how she’s an American living in America in American ways.
Dawn thinks they’re hitting it off!
Meanwhile the snarkier readers start looking for evidence that, like, Hugo is really a guy from Yonkers who made up his French identity as a lark when he went to college and now he can’t get out of it, so he’s trying to make it so broad and ridiculous that people catch on without his having to tell them he was lying. I am sure Karen Moy did not mean us to go looking for evidence that Hugo was running a weird head-fake here. But it added an extra something wonderful and silly to read each strip for.
Anyway, they have a decent summer romance. Hugo’s spending his last month before going home painting his host family’s house. Dawn spends the time emitting French words hoping to get a response. “Guy de Maupassant! Eiffel tower! Pizza!” She panicked. Anyway, they spend time doing fun summer activities like leaping in fountains and sitting on the beach and all.
But the sad part is they know when Hugo will go home. Dawn worries their relationship — oh, hi, Mary Worth! How did you know? Well, Mary Worth offers the obvious but useful advice that Dawn should talk with Hugo about what happens after he goes home. And that he might not want a long-distance relationship. And that it’s all right to have a relationship that’s delightful for a month and then ends.
Dawn brings up the topic gently, on a trip to the Santa Royale Aquarium. Dawn suggests they might visit the far superior Cineaqua in Paris, when she visits him. He says, why speak of the future? In the aquarium he points to the fish who have their tanks and their place and accept it, and why don’t we accept the here and now? And, boy, if you want to subvert the text and read this as Hugo trying to not confess his secret? The text is almost on your side here.
She decides not to take the hint. Driving him to the airport she finally asks if they can Skype together or something. He says no, it couldn’t work. His Internet won’t send to anytime later than 2012 when France Télécom shut down Minitel. Dawn points out, this is Mary Worth, they’re all living in like 1972 at the latest. This shakes him, but he leaves for his plane.
Dawn, weeping, gets a visit from a guy with parentheses all over his face. Since he has a deformity he’s there to deliver inspirational words about God not giving people more than they can handle, and leave. (This did surprise me. I thought Inspirational Guy might be Dawn’s quick-setting rebound relationship.) She goes home to cry.
It’s not Mary Worth knocking on her door. It’s Hugo.
His flight’s delayed to tomorrow. So he went to her. And, he’s willing to try a long distance relationship now. Dawn is overjoyed. And Mary Worth approves of this. She notes there are challenges to a long-distance relationship, but, come on. This is officially 2019. Over 96 percent of all relationships start out as long distance.
And that’s our story! It does seem pretty well wrapped up and the ritual of thanking Mary Worth is barely under way. We’ll see what’s changed the next time I check in, likely around December.
Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!
Where would Mary Worth Sunday pages be without an inspirational quote ripped out of all possible context and maybe assigned to a famous person at random? Shorter, for one. Here’s some things recently said to have been said:
“Just living is not enough … one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” — Hans Christian Andersen, 7 July 2019
“We cannot wish for what we know not.” — Voltaire, 14 July 2019
“People are pretty much alike. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.” — Linda Ellerbee, 21 July 2019
“Normality is a paved road: it’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow through.” — Vincent van Gogh, 28 July 2019
“La vie est un sommeil, l’amour en est le rêve.” — Alfred de Musset, 4 August 2019
“I live in the moment. The moment is the most important thing.” — Rita Moreno, 11 August 2019
“You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.” — Frank Crane, 18 August 2019
“True happiness … is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 25 August 2019
“In every living thing there is the desire for love.” — D H Lawrence, 1 September 2019
“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” — Alfred Lord Tennyson, 8 September 2019
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — William “Hamlet” Shakespeare, 15 September 2019
“Life’s supposed to be an adventure, a surprise!.” — Anton du Beke, 22 September 2019
“Distance means so little, when someone means so much.” — Tom McNeal, 29 September 2019
I know what you’re wondering. No, the auto care place has not changed its inspirational yet despairing message yet. Yes, I’m worried too.
So you live in a utopian future. You don’t have anything to be embarrassed by there. It’s a pretty sweet deal. Maybe it wasn’t you that was embarrassed. Maybe it was someone who reminded me of you. It would help if we could get some name tags or distinctive ribbons or something. Anyway, even in a utopia there’s no getting away from some civic responsibilities. At any moment something like one-eighth of our population is busy introducing the place to an outsider. Are you ready?
Maybe you’re wondering where they come from. The answer is, all over. Some of them are people from before the utopia who got themselves caught in cave-ins, or were put into stasis until medical science found a cure for painting bricks. Some of them are from alternate timelines, like one where Belgian visionary Paul Otlet and his electric telescopes failed to manifest the Mundaneum in Lakewood, New Jersey in 1934. Maybe they’re dreaming, as far as they can tell, and there’s no sense waking them up before you figure out which of us is real. Ooh, maybe they’re aliens, so we can be their aliens, and add this neat little mirror-image chic to things.
Really it doesn’t matter. Any visitor to utopia has some things they just have to know. And they have some expectations. Meet them, and they’ll be happy with the experience. They’ll need to be told they are in a utopia, straight off. Hide that and they’ll never be happy. And they’ll need a couple rounds of origin-shaming so they appreciate how their homes made serious dog’s breakfasts of things. That’s an easy sell because people find it charming to hear “dog’s breakfast” as a metaphor.
They’ll want to have a tour, once they’ve been electro-taught the universal language or just happened to know it anyway. You’ll want to take this on foot. It makes stuff seem bigger. I recommend taking them to one of those middling-size buildings made with that brick cladding that somehow looks like fake bricks even though they’re real bricks. Try to approach from the side that’s the least architectury. Then go into something about how it’s the administrative district’s largest facility for producing psychoneutral brick or self-motivated gelatin or fully interactive quadrophonic squirrels or whatever. To make a convincing presentation remember the important two elements:
A bunch of statistics delivered in obscure units. Try saying something like `modules over 20.38 centipoise per millikatal hectosievert’ or `response metrics as sensitive as 12.10 decatur-centidays’ until it sounds kind of normal-ish. `400,000 mease of herring each compline’. `0.2 adrianople-ceston-centiMcClintocks.’ Something like that.
A moving sidewalk. You can find some at most airports, many train stations, and the occasional shopping mall.
You’re going to get the occasional visitor who’s looking for social satire. By “social satire” people mean everyone talking about how their enemies were fools and their heroes visionaries. This is tricky to do before you know who their enemies and their heroes were. You can make some wild guesses and if they react with horror say that you were just testing to see if they were ready for the true order of things. You’ll want to practice that with friends before doing it live. Also bring some gift certificates for ice cream or something so you can act like you’re giving a special award for their figuring it out. Some weird flavor, something hard to like. They’re not coming all the way to utopia just to get fudge ripple. They’re looking for something with a bit of freaky to it. In fact, don’t just do this for ice cream. Every day try to find two or three little things to freak up a bit. It’s surprisingly fun once you get the hang of it and it makes their experience so much better. It’s kind of an important rule for life.
If you still can’t get a handle on them, try some patter about how gold and silver make the throw pillows of utopia all the more throw-pillow-ish. Your guests will make what they want out of this, and if they ask you to expand on it pull the old “what does that tell you about us?” routine. You’re not going to believe how well this works.
Sometimes you’re going to get the visitor who’s decided utopia is actually a dystopia. There’s no arguing them out of it. They’re going to figure they’re the only ones who see it, and they have a responsibility to destroy society, which is supposed to somehow help. So you’ll want to have contacts with some local theater group. They should have a bunch of costumes and a couple people who can do improv work as an underground movement. Set them up with something harmless like bubble wands. Tell your visitor these are futuristic pacification weapons so that nobody’ll get unnecessarily hurt while they’re busy destroying society.
Now you’ll need to set up a story where the organizing impulse for all society comes from, oh, whatever. That closed psychoneutral brick factory nobody’s got around to tearing down yet. Send them off to attack it and after all the foam has evaporated — well, you know joy? Not really. Not the kind of joy you’ll see after they figure they’ve gone and obliterated society. It’s pretty sweet, really. After you do go along with this you’re going to have to listen to them blathering a while about how they’ve opened everyone’s eyes and how society is really and truly going to work this time. And some of them can go on forever like this. But whoever said life in utopia was perfect?
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose eleven points on word that if everybody was good we might just go to an amusement park for the Fourth of July. Skeptics protest that major holidays are the worst time to go to amusement parks because everybody goes to them then, but they were shut down by that time on the 4th of July that we went to Great Adventure and literally got to walk on to the front row of Kingda Ka, and when does that ever happen?
So here’s the upper-right-corner of Sunday’s edition of the Asbury Park Press, suggesting some of the fun things you might do on the Jersey Shore this weekend.
You might get your beach tag and wander around on sand that’s surprisingly hot considering. You might drop a computer’s “on” switch into water. You might enjoy a strawberry festival. Or you might take in the classic beach movie Jaws, about a shore community’s 4th of July celebration that ends in a bunch of people bloody and dead because of the need to draw tourists to the beach. Also this weekend, read the Asbury Park Press report on the centennial of the 1916 Jersey Shore Shark Attacks, the series of tragedies in that area that inspired Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws. This didn’t make the cover on Sunday.
I suppose I can’t really say this is “too soon”, what with the start of it all having been a hundred years ago. But it does remind me this is the community that ran sightseeing tours to the wreckage of the Morro Castle before the authorities had even finished finding someone who looked Communist to blame for the disaster.
Anyway, ah, mathematics comics: here’s some. There’ll be more tomorrow, it’s that kind of week. Thanks.
Last week around these parts I mentioned this huge lump of coal. It was dropped off a train in Lansing over a century ago. It was around in 1976 to take school bus tour groups to. Now it isn’t there. As far as I can tell. I want to give a full report about the spot where it’s supposed to be, so I can say what’s there now. Maybe the coal was gone but it had been replaced with a heaping pile of bauxite, for example, or perhaps potash. Maybe jute or some naval supplies. But I didn’t have the chance to get over there. Well, I got in the area, since it’s near the pet store. But I had to go over to the pet store under emergency circumstances. They didn’t allow for a side trip to go looking for deposits of cinnabar or whatever. But I looked at the place on Google Maps Streetview and I didn’t see anything. I think.
But lumps of missing coal aren’t all the interesting stuff described in Helen E Grainger’s 1976 book Pictorial Lansing: Great City On The Grand. I think there’s supposed to be a colon there. The cover isn’t quite clear. I’m sure it’s not Pictorial Lansing Great City On The Grand That Changed The World. The book’s got, for example, a picture of Ransom Olds’s mansion. He’s the person who invented the Oldsmobile. Just like you might guess if you were bluffing your way through the question “Who invented the Oldsmobile?” and you rejected “Biddle Jehoshaphat Mobile” for no good reason. The Olds mansion was torn down in 1966 to make way for an Interstate, which is a wee bit on-the-nose, people. The mansion had an Aeolian organ that was “sold and delivered to Oregon”. So if anyone in Oregon’s seen an Aeolian organ and doesn’t know where it’s come from, here’s a lead.
Then there’s the Lions Den. It’s also known as “The Lawrence Mansion”, “Squire Haven’s 1861 House”, and “Brauer’s 1861 House”. It is “now, in 1976, the oldest building in Michigan that has a restaurant in it”. Somehow the phrasing of that sentence makes me doubt my conceptual model of restaurants. It shouldn’t. There’s nothing revolutionary about the idea of a restaurant that doesn’t take up a whole building. Or a building that doesn’t have a restaurant. The phrasing just fills me with doubts. I don’t know. Anyway, a neat feature of the 1861 Lawrence Brauer Squire Haven 1861 Mansion House is a glass on top. The book says “the day [construction workers] finished it, all the working crew had a drink from a wine glass and then one of the workers climbed up and put this little wine glass upside down on top of the spire that goes up in the sky from the cupola”. The next page has a picture of the glass on the cupola on the spire on the building on whatnot.
It’s also gone. My love did some research and found that the glass was replaced at least once. And it was painted over and paint-welded to the spire at least once. And sometime last decade the building got declared architecturally unsound. It was down before it could slide downriver and crash into an Interstate. They were planning to build condos there, if I have it right, and then noticed it was 2008 so they decided to instead not build condos.
Now for something that is still there. I know it is because I keep seeing it along Michigan Avenue. But never up close because it’s on the median and there’s not anywhere nearby enough to park without looking weird. I’m glad the book tells me what it is so I don’t have to go experience it myself. It’s a blurry copper-I-guess plaque on a stone that doesn’t look at all like coal and if the book is right it reads:
This block of concrete represents the efforts of Lansing’s pioneer residents in the laying of one of the first and longest stretches of concrete pavement in the world, between Lansing and East Lansing.
That’s like four miles, downtown-to-downtown. Grainger didn’t know when the plaque was put up. The Highway Commissioner named took office in 1933, so, probably it wasn’t 1931, but otherwise who knows? Can we rule out 1954 in its entirety? But that’s all right, because Grainger didn’t know when the concrete pavement was put down either. She guessed not later than 1914. So I want you to appreciate all this. It’s a plaque I technically speaking have not read, put up sometime we do not know, commemorating an event that happened at some time we do not know. I’m not saying this is the funniest thing in the world. I’m saying this is one of the more giggle-worthy things I’ve run across in easily twenty-two days.
So in all, I would like to say that here in mid-Michigan, there are things, or used to be, and that isn’t so bad an arrangement.
OK, so, what’s worse than seeing any city’s name trending on Twitter? Seeing your city’s name trending on Twitter. So, thank you, Twitter, for putting ‘Lansing’ right there as the third item under Trends for most of the last week.
Don’t worry. There’s, as of my writing this, nothing to worry about going on in Lansing. This has to be them Helpfully Localizing my content experience. It’s all been about normal recently. There was a power outage downtown last Friday during lunchtime and that’s been the big news. Sure, that’s the sort of thing that’s fun to go through, especially since it hit the capitol and the state office buildings and stuff. Power failures are the snow days that office workers get. So there’s the understandable thrill of, like, seeing State Supreme Court justices just wandering down Washington Square Street with nothing particular to do.
But is that thrilling enough to last a week? So a State Supreme Court justice figures he might as well head to the downtown peanut roastery. That’s not all that exceptional. Who doesn’t like peanut roasteries? Even the people deathly allergic can appreciate the carpet of expectant squirrels staring at customers who don’t know whether to follow the signs warning DO NOT FEED SQUIRRELS or whether there’s no way they’re getting out alive without dropping at least a four-ounce bag of cashews and running. We would go on about that for a while, sure, but a week? Not worth it.
And there’s one of the smallest measurable bits of excitement coming out of East Lansing. There’s been a ball python on the loose since the weekend. Channel 6’s article about calls it a “runaway” snake, which suggests the lede’s writer does not fully understand snakes. But it’s not an aggressive species, and it’s not venomous. It would eat small animals, but it’s way far away from the peanut roastery, so even the squirrels don’t get bothered by it. So while that’s kind of interesting again there’s no way this is trend-worthy.
One of the top items under ‘Lansing’ was remembering the birth of actor Robert Lansing, 1928 – 1994. Remember him? (Correct answer: no. I’m sorry but there is a Ray Davies song about this.) He was in the original Star Trek. In this backdoor-pilot episode he played alien-trained super-duper-secret-agent Gary Seven, the United States adaptation of the Third Doctor Who. Terri Garr played his human female companion. And if you want to protest that the episode (“Assignment: Earth”) was made and aired in 1968 (1968), years (2) before the Actual Third Doctor was even cast (1970), then let me remind you, time traveller. Sheesh.
And it isn’t like Lansing doesn’t have some stuff worthy of quirky Internet fame. I was reading Helen E Grainer’s Pictorial Lansing, which in 1976 put in book form the school field trip tours she gave kids. It mentions:
One of the early trains to Lansing brought a piece of coal as big as the front seat of a car. It is still sitting by the train tracks on Grand River Avenue east of Cedar Street.
I submit that even in this jaded age, a piece of coal as big as the front seat of a car, and that’s been sitting on the street for a century, is worth looking at. They have a picture of it, sitting in front of the train tracks and some house. But I’ve been to that spot. As best I can figure there’s no huge lump of coal there. The house is gone too. So Lansing apparently had a right big lump of coal that sat on the street corner for a century, and then someone went and took it. Also someone took the house. Taking a house is normal, although good luck explaining to a six-year-old why anyone thinks that’s normal. Taking a huge lump of coal? That’s noteworthy and is anyone tweeting about that? That’s getting freaky. You know, it would be a scandal if a State Supreme Court justice had pocketed both house and coal under cover of the traffic signals all being out.
Recently my love was talking about some regular local event we’d never gotten to. Over bagels my love drew the analogy, “It’s like they say. You live in New York, but you never go to the E — ” and here tripped a little on lunch, to resume with “to the Eiffel tower.” This quite normal tongue-slipping inspired in me an oppressive series of follow-ups. Some of them include: “You know, you live in Tokyo, but do you ever see the Great Pyramid of Giza?” “You live in Paris, but how often do you go to the Golden Gate Bridge?” “Sure you’re from Boston, but do you ever visit Angor Wat?” And then there was “Yeah, you live in the 1960s, but do you ever stop in on V-E Day except when company’s visiting?” My love has accepted this in good stead and I’m working on turning that last joke into a Nebula-award-winning short story and disappointing movie starring several of Hollywood’s leading explosions.
But this does look like a real problem. It’s not an urgent one, like potholes or the disappearance of the cheap water crackers from the supermarket. Still it feels like something that needs explanation, and solution. Every place has stuff: museums, festivals, parks, novel concepts in restaurant experiences, ridiculous home-grown sporting contests. When we go anywhere by choice we spend the whole time running around them. This even though we could have done the same stuff while staying at home. You know home. It’s where we don’t have to find the cable TV channels and the bed isn’t next to a giant wedge of hotel art. What goes on here?
Don’t try saying that we can’t have these kinds of experiences at home. Every place has museums. And the details are different, sure, but every museum is still a museum. It’s a string of white-walled rooms with uncomfortable benches in the center. Each room has just enough doors that you can’t be sure which way to go. Somewhere in the distance you hear an approaching gaggle of squealing kids. There’s a couple rooms with mannequins set up to reenact a scene that maybe never happened.
Or else you’re in one of those interactive experiential museums. There every room has TV screens and garish, underlit walls. They have theremins that might not be turned on. You can’t tell. You might just not be working them right. There’s blocks on wires that you can move along to model how nerves or the phosphorous cycle or TCP/IP packets work. There you can see the kids. They’re running between you and your blocks on wires over to the Hall of Optical Illusions. There they punch one another and get yelled at to be quiet. An audio recording someone started by pressing a button finishes eighty seconds after the audience left.
We’ve all been there, in every city we might visit. It’s a fine experience. I can’t get enough of it. But the only difference going to a famous museum in some other city is you might have heard of the thing you’re trying to look at. If you have heard of it, you know about what you should see from looking at it. If you haven’t heard of it, how would you know the difference?
And you can go to any festival or fair or sporting event or whatnot and have fun. You can have actual fun yourself or keep an ironic distance from all the people you assume are there having actual fun. And somewhere in your neighborhood is a restaurant where you have to sit through an explanation of their concept. Their concept is “restaurants made hard”. You don’t have to go to Chicago, if you’re not from Chicago, for that if you want.
But we don’t want. The point of going home is being where we don’t want to do anything. Home is a place for dressing so we won’t be seen, for slouching, eating processed foods that are neither the color nor flavor of anything found in nature, and for not being wanted by anybody for anything. Going out is for emotional and intellectual engagement. When we go home, it’s to be where we don’t have to put any energy into having an experience. Home is the place where, when you go there, nobody feels bad that you’re bored.
Your home town is an extension of this. It’s the place where you don’t have to feel anything about anything but when they’re going to fix the pothole on the offramp that messes up your drive every time. And when they do, it offends you because the street repairs mess up your drive in a different way. If you did all the stuff in your home town, where would you go to get out of the house and feel bored?
And only the rubes go to V-E Day anymore. It’s too full of people trying to turn it into something marketable. If you have to visit some era, pick something that’s still home, such as a week ago Tuesday. It may not be flashy. But you know where the gaggles of screaming kids don’t go. And the tourists haven’t found it yet.
In my occasional travels I have not taken the advice of Robert Benchley in this piece from My Ten Years In A Quandary And How They Grew, but I should have. Also, while this whole essay is a buffet of funny meaningless syllables, the thing Benchley reports finding at Lurding — itself a great name — is one of my favorite nonsense phrases. Made-up funny words are difficult for the writer, and harder for the reader, but Benchley shows off his deft touch from East Mipford on.
Keep A Log
In planning that automobile trip upcountry this Summer don’t forget to consult those notes you made last year when going over the same route. They’re in that combination log-book and Japanese fan that you took along for just that purpose.
These notes, most of which were jotted down en route, seem to have been made with the wrong end of the pencil. They are part lead-markings and part wood-carvings. It would be fun to dig up that pencil today, just to take a look at it and see where the lead stopped and the wood began.
To make things harder you apparently made the notes while taking part in a hill-climbing contest, when the car was at an angle of forty-five degrees. They are the work of a man in rather desperate straits to keep himself in his seat, to say nothing of indulging in the luxury of writing. You couldn’t have been as drunk as that.
The first one, jotted down with great difficulty, was made opposite the name of the town, East Mipford, fifteen miles from your starting place. It says, as nearly as you can make it out, simply “East Mipford.” This would seem rather silly. Presumably you already knew the name of the town, as it was right there in the map in plain letters. Why jot it down again in that round, boyish hand of yours? Possibly you were just practicing handwriting. God knows you needed practice!
Anyway, there is “East Mipford” and, opposite it, “East Mipford,” so East Mipford it is. It’s a good thing to know, at any rate.
The next bit of puzzle work was jabbed into the paper at Orkington. Here you saw fit to write “No sporfut.” Either this was meant as a warning that, at Orkington, one can get no “sporfut” or that it is dangerous to “sporfut” in or around, Orkington. If you had some clearer idea of what “sporfut” was you would know better how to regulate your passage through Orkington this year. The lack of “sporfut” last year must have been quite a trial to you, otherwise you wouldn’t have made a note of it. Well, better luck this time!
At Animals’ Falls you had what was designated as “lunch,” which is pretty easy to figure out. After it, however is written “Gleever House—Central Hotel—Animals’ Falls Spa.” It must have been a pretty good “lunch” to have included all three restaurants, and, as you made no designation of which was best, the only thing to do is try them all again this time.
Perhaps you will remember, after ordering at the Gleever House, that it was the Central Hotel which was the best. Perhaps you meant that all three were rotten and that you should go on to the next town before eating. The only way to find out is to try.
From then on you are confronted by such notations as “fresh cob” at Turkville (which may mean “fresh cop” or good “fresh corn on the cob”), “Emily” at North Neswick (which may be where you left Emily off), and “steening chahl” at Lurding, which obviously means nothing. You arrived at your destination, according to the log, at “27 o’clock.”
That is the value of a log-book. It makes the second trip seem so much more exciting.
4:52 am. Passengers assemble at the East Lansing Train Station. Passengers will be screened for having gotten more than three hours of fitful, oft-interrupted sleep the night before. Those which have will be assigned a 25-page term paper on the subject of late 19th Century United States presidents and their understanding of how the emerging science of thermodynamics affects railroad painting, worth forty percent of the class, no makeups.
5:18 am. Passengers board the train to East East Lansing where the train service stops and they all get aboard a bus to take them to Toledo, arriving somehow at 3:12 am that same morning, only crankier. Through the bus trip the TV screens will be playing Something, Probably A Romantic Comedy Or Something, with the lower half of the screen glitched out and the audio just loud enough to hear the helicopters and explosions but not the dialogue. Three stars.
7:30 am. Bus arrives in Toledo to transfer to the train station, but immediately gets lost because the driver attempts foolishly to follow “Route 2”, a highway of legendary and purely notional existence.
2:18 pm. The Ohio Coast Guard retrieves the bus from Lake Erie shortly before the desperately paddling passengers manage to cross the border into Ontario and thus provoke an international incident as many of them failed to bring adequate supplies of Canadian currency and someone is trying to pass off a FunZone Game Token as money.
10:40 pm. The Ohio Coast Guard finally gets the bus paddled to shore and after hiring sherpas brings the bus to the train station, whence the train zooms towards Pittsburgh, stopping only after fourteen minutes in order that a freight train with higher priority can be constructed and loaded with freight, a cargo consisting of passenger train cars headed the other direction. On-train Internet WiFi service is reduced from “sluggish” to “laughable”.
Day 2. 2:15 am. The train arrives in Pittsburgh and is immediately taken out over the Monongahela River and dangled by its couplers or whatever they have until every passenger has been subject to a review of the stuff left in the backseat of his or her car to be cleaned out “later, when it’s convenient”. The winner is the one who has the most obviously later-inconvenient item, with bonus points awarded if it is some kind of mould for the fabrication of solid metal objects.
3:20 am. The train just sits outside the Kennywood Amusement Park for a couple of hours to make everyone feel bad that they’re at an amusement park and they can’t go in, plus everything’s closed up. A conductor goes around reminding people they have 23 and a half pages to go and have barely thought about paint.
6:75 am. The train discharges its passengers that they may catch their connecting service, at the far end of the railway terminal in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, or maybe Charleston, West Virginia. Check signs for details.
8:26 am. Connecting service on the line to New York City departs wherever, with the conductor reminding people they have 22 and three-quarters pages and the font may not be larger than fourteen point. New sound-dampening cushions allow most of the ride to be soft and quiet except for the guy ranting about you’re not sure what except it’s definitely political and somehow it gets into what you do for your career and he gets that so wrong it’s hard to resist answering.
9:14 am. Thorough investigation of the train establishes that nobody is actually producing the rant. Clearly the problem is a quarrelsome ghost of annoying conversations gone by. Internet service upgrades to “pages load, but only the banner ads and that swirling dot pattern web sites started doing like two years ago in place of showing stuff”.
11:57 am. Start of a four-hour delay so we can sit by the side of a large pile of rocks. Inspires several passengers to include a section about presidential rocks, which falls apart when nobody can remember the name of Gustav … uh … Mount Rushmore Guy without the Internet.
6:12 pm. End of the four-hour delay.
8:55 pm. Train approaches Hoboken, pauses so that passengers can be dangled sideways until the blood rushes to their wrists.
10:10 pm. Arrival, Penn Station, New York City. Technically, legally part of New Jersey because of the lease NJ Transit has on that platform. We are given extensions on the paper.
11:58 am. Coming to question entire point of expedition. What is the point of discovery? What is the value of exploration? How can traveller’s tales of Upper Fiddled Mewes or the eastern shore of the Pompous Lakes District be relevant to the modern age? Is there a point to continuing, and at that, is there a point to pointedness when life is occupied by a string of suffering that stretches to the indefinite past and to the pointlessness of the future? The Price Is Right ended in a Double Overbid. After enough time spent staring into the void will come the balm of punching a book of Nietzsche.
Total Mileage: 0 (me), 0.001136 miles (book of Nietzsche, would have been farther but it hit the wall; may try again in a larger room).
9:45 am.Not making the same mistake as last time. Headed out east to find the Cumbrey Road onramp desperately backed up due to emergency construction. Turned around; went west, discovered the Pridmore’s Swamp Turnpike closed due to non-emergency non-construction. At the Five Points Turnabout walls of orange barrels reach high enough to blot out the sun. Trying south instead discovered potholes for sale by the square yard and extending as far as forty feet off the highway and into people’s homes. Northwest reveals a patch where it’s still winter, and northeast finds routine construction implying detours sending me right back home. Clearly there are deeper forces at work here than we suspect.
9:30 am. Readied to set out. With the car loaded up, popped back inside to announce to presumed interested public about the start of the journey. Drawn into conflict about whether this should be “Day 1” or “Day 0” away from home on the grounds that a nontrivial part of the day was spent at home. Argument proved surprisingly violent; cats hid under bed, producing discovery that there were cats around.
Somewhere along the border, the long latitudinal part anyway, there’s this remarkably charming monument to the spot where, apparently, my brain thinks in that some enormously long-running story which in the X-Men backstory started just after World War II, got started. It’s even labelled as the point where some kind of WorldPlot began, whatever that is. It’s also got a nice map showing all the nations of the world which came together — Canada, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, Australia, China, really, a whole lot of the world and 44 of the 48 United States (as I remember, Arizona, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon prominently refused to participate) — for whatever this purpose was. Made for an inspiring map of countries and states outlined in a pleasant blue.
Mind you, the historical marker maps are just offensively overpriced. I don’t know what WorldPlot is, exactly, but the park isn’t that big and there’s no way that it’s worth C$45.99 to have a pamphlet that explains it all. Maybe the park is just a big fundraising scam for whatever the WorldPlot is, I don’t know, but you’d think after nearly seventy years they’d be done with it already. Anyway, there’s lots of other things nice about Dream Canada, probably, but I had to get up.
I know it’s an inexpensive way to get to Anchorage, Alaska, but do not take the free cable car service running from Seattle to the city — or to any of the hanging, amusement-park style cable-car destination spots on the Alaskan Peninsula or any of the Aleutian Islands. Yes, it’s even free if you want to go to Attu, and you get plenty of fresh air through the open top of the car, but they’re not heated, and you’re carried alarmingly high over the ocean surface, particularly if you need to use the bathroom, which is done by unlatching the door and crouching a little while holding on very tight. Add to that the travel time and it’s really worth the money to take a car, boat, or plane.
“I imagine you’re wondering why I’m not talking to you,” said our pet rabbit. This was the first I’d heard he wasn’t talking to me, but I’m like that. I looked thoughtful, or confused, which is about right for me any time. “You know Saturday was International Rabbit Day?”
“I do. And did.”
“And you’ve noticed that I’m a rabbit, right?”
I allowed that I had.
“And we didn’t do anything international!”
“I … talked about you online. I’m pretty sure someone from Canada heard about you.”
“And I’ve never even been to Canada! How international a rabbit can I be when I haven’t even been there?”
“You haven’t even been to Ohio, either — ”
“I’ve missed Canada and Ohio! I’ll never be a world traveller at this rate!”
“You hate travel. You spent two days sulking when we put you upstairs in the air conditioned room this summer.”
“You can’t go to other countries if you won’t even stand going upstairs.”
“You could bring other countries in here. It’s the least you could do for International Rabbit Day.”
I considered telling him he was a Flemish giant, so was already kind of International by not being in … and then I realized I couldn’t explain where the Flemish were from without getting in more trouble. So I promised to do something about it next year.
So, to summarize, I’d like everyone to know that I do too know how to take a picture on a digital camera. I don’t want to brag, but I have noticed how every digital camera in the world has a little button on the top that you press to take the picture. I’d got this worked out pretty well sometime in like 1978 when I first heard of the idea of taking pictures with anything more advanced than taping the newspaper photograph up to the window so I could trace over it on some paper.
And yes there were too digital cameras back then, models with up to four pixels and the ability to differentiate between one shade of grey and another slightly identical shade of grey, producing photographs that could be shared on the primitive Internet just by running a simple UUencode filter on the file type, then copying it into your e-mail client, which was horrible, and then waiting twenty minutes to find out that your Internet connection died halfway through, and then running down the hall to the recipient and slapping him for wanting to see a picture of this. The point is, every digital camera in the world works by having a button on the top that you press.
Yeah I know cell phones don’t take pictures like that. And I know with iPads you take pictures by standing there holding the iPad up until everyone around you notices how awkward you look and feels bad that you have to do something so embarrassing, and that finally triggers the shame sensors that puts you out of your misery by taking the photo already. Those don’t count. I’m talking about cameras, the kind made of fresh-mined cameraonium ore, and with icons on the side showing that little lightning bolt and the flower representing the climax of Eadweard Muybridge’s vision of a day when the average person could have flowers electrocuted.
This is another slice from Robert Benchley’s Of All Things, from among a set of very short pieces gathered under the general heading of “Tabloid Editions”, little things which ran in The Saturday Evening Post, or Harper’s Magazine or The American Magazine, and which strike me as representative of routine Benchley. This is an example of what feels to me like Benchley proving he could write as much of his kind of stuff as needed, even if the subject didn’t inspire lines that’d be quoted decades hence.
The chance visitor to Fall River may be said, like the old fisherman in Bartholomew Fair, to have “seen half the world, without tasting its savour.” Wandering down the Main Street, with its clanging trolley-cars and noisy drays, one wonders (as, indeed, one may well wonder) if all this is a manifestation so much of Fall River as it is of that for which Fall River stands.
Frankly, I do not know.
But there is something in the air, something ineffable in the swirl of the smoke from the towering stacks, which sings, to the rhythm of the clashing shuttles and humming looms, of a day when old gentlemen in belted raglans and cloth-topped boots strolled through these streets, bearing with them the legend of mutability. Perhaps “mutability” is too strong a word. Fall Riverians would think so.
And the old Fall River Line! What memories does that name not awaken in the minds of globetrotters? Or, rather, what memories does it awaken? William Lloyd Garrison is said to have remarked upon one occasion to Benjamin Butler that one of the most grateful features of Fall River was the night-boat for New York. To which Butler is reported to have replied : “But, my dear Lloyd, there is no night-boat to New York, and there won’t be until along about 1875 or even later. So your funny crack, in its essential detail, falls flat.”
But, regardless of all this, the fact remains that Fall River is Fall River, and that it is within easy motoring distance of Newport, which offers our art department countless opportunities for charming illustrations.